Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/9/2020

Politics and Policy

The Editorial Board of the New York Times (NYT) has endorsed former Vice-President Joe Biden for president.  Biden’s transition team is considering appointing a climate and energy “czar” to help direct sweeping changes across federal agencies if he wins next month’s election.  A Biden administration would also take aim at the Trump administration’s rollbacks of many major environmental protections, but because of complexities in the rulemaking process, undoing just some of them could take years.  During the only vice-presidential debate, Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly falsely asserted that a Biden administration plans to ban fracking and adopt the Green New Deal.  Consequently, Dino Grandoni of the Washington Post compared Biden’s climate plan to the Green New Deal, as did David Roberts of Vox.  The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider a case that will determine how much leeway appeals courts get in deciding the best venue for climate lawsuits brought by states and cities.  NPR’s Jeff Brady examined how Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is likely to impact climate action if confirmed.

The Trump administration is behind schedule in putting out a call for scientists to produce the Fifth National Climate Assessment.  A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia appeared divided Thursday on President Trump’s effort to repeal his predecessor’s regulations on planet-warming emissions from the power sector and replace them with far weaker controls.  Marianne Lavelle summarized some of the arguments presented.  A federal court on Thursday struck down an Obama-era regulation targeting methane leaks from drilling on public lands, arguing that it went beyond the reach of the BLM, which promulgated the rule.  When it comes to acting on climate change, a new study suggests that people don’t like to feel that their freedom of choice is being threatened and would prefer ‘upstream’ solutions that target the producers rather than consumers of carbon-intensive goods.

The European Parliament has voted in favor of a legally binding target for the EU to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 (relative to 1990 levels), which is more ambitious than the emissions cut proposed by the European Commission and may be difficult to get ratified by the member nations.  China’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 would require investments of more than $5 trillion, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie.  Although any explicit reference to net zero carbon emissions was vehemently opposed at the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, more than a third of global emissions are now covered by net zero targets, demonstrating how quickly things can change, even with the U.S. opting out.

Investigative reporting by ProPublica revealed how the Virginia legislature succumbed to intensive lobbying by Dominion Energy, in spite of pledges to trim its power.  The Virginia Manufacturers Association is suing Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality and State Air Pollution Control Board over the state’s revision of regulations that will allow it to join a regional cap-and-trade market for carbon.  The Sierra Club and seven other environmental groups filed petitions late Monday asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay recently issued permits allowing the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) to burrow under streams and wetlands until the court can hear their challenge of the authorizations.  The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday adopted the county’s first “Climate Action Plan”.  A legal principle embraced by Virginia that strictly curtails local powers is hampering cities from making progress on clean energy goals, according to a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  An expanding wood pellet market in the Southeast has fallen short of climate and job goals, instead bringing air pollution, noise, and reduced biodiversity in majority Black communities.

Climate and Climate Science

September was the warmest on record globally, according to the weather service Copernicus.  In interviews with CBS News, both James Hansen and Michael Mann stressed that the worst effects of climate change don’t have to happen, but humans’ actions in the near future will determine if they do.  Emissions of nitrous oxide, a climate super-pollutant hundreds of times more potent than CO2, have increased by 30% since 1980, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.

As of October 7th, 16 billion-dollar weather/climate disasters have impacted the U.S., tying the annual records that occurred in 2011 and 2017, with three months left to go.  As hurricane Delta bore down on the U.S. Gulf Coast, it was the latest in a recent flurry of rapidly intensifying Atlantic hurricanes that scientists largely blame on global warming.  As of Tuesday morning, the August Complex Fire in the northern part of California had burned at least a million acres, while the total area burned set a new record twice as large as the old one, set 2018.

Although I have put several articles recently about the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers in West Antarctica, this article from Yale Climate Connections does an excellent job of summarizing recent research there.  Reuters had a very interesting and informative infographic and article about permafrost and its possible impacts in a warming world.

Because of the climate crisis, much of the Amazon could be on the verge of losing its distinct nature and switching from a closed canopy rainforest to an open savannah with far fewer trees.  The total area of Brazilian Amazon rainforest that has been degraded — through selective logging, understory fire, destruction of forest edges, and fragmentation — is larger than the total deforested area.

A top Trump official released a polar bear study by government scientists last Friday that highlights the endangered animals’ vulnerability to climate change and the fact that proposed oil drilling in Alaska would probably encroach on their habitat, causing more stress.


JPMorgan Chase & Co will support its clients in expanding investment in clean energy and work towards net zero-emissions by 2050.  Europe’s top oil companies are still not aligned with UN-backed targets to combat climate change, even after outlining ambitious plans to slash carbon emissions and pivot to renewable energy.  U.S. oil firms are doubling down on efforts to extract oil and gas, while pursuing technologies to capture and store carbon emissions.  Leaked documents revealed that ExxonMobil’s growth strategy will increase its annual carbon emissions by 17% between 2017 and 2025.  Within one week of each other, Ameren and Entergy pledged to cut CO2 emissions to nothing by 2050.  The American public is facing a potential bill of $280 billion for the cleanup of 2.6 million unplugged oil and gas wells (not including an estimated 1.2 million undocumented orphan wells).

As Ford Motor Co., General Motors, and Volkswagen have unveiled new electric cars, they have admitted that electric models will in some ways be superior to models using internal combustion engines.  Toyota and Hino Trucks are developing their first Class 8 hydrogen fuel-cell electric truck for the North American market.  Developing a lithium industry using brine from California’s Salton Sea could help set up a multi-billion dollar domestic supply chain for electric vehicle batteries.

A new report concludes that the U.S. needs a massive green hydrogen industry to decarbonize its electricity, transportation, and industrial sectors, as well as major investments and policy changes to enable it to grow to its full potential.  Three analysts at Rocky Mountain Institute looked at the role hydrogen might play in powering gas turbines during periods when wind and solar production were low in a decarbonized economy.

Daniel Yergin, a long-time student of energy and energy policy, wrote about the impacts of COVID-19 on “the sprint away from fossil fuels”.  The Guardian’s Oliver Milman reviewed the status of carbon capture and utilization or storage.  A clutch of wave power developers is hoping to shake off the technology’s “forever-round-the-corner” reputation with commercial-scale arrays that could be in the water next year.  Linking floating solar panels with hydropower could generate anywhere from 16% to 40% of the world’s electricity, according to a new study by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has just released its 2020 “Clean Energy Scorecard” for U.S. cities.  The organization that develops model building codes adopted by most cities and states in the U.S. met this week, pitting officials trying to go greener against real estate developers and the natural gas industry.


Terra Nostra, a 30-minute multimedia symphony about climate change is now available on-line.  At Yale Climate Connections, Spencer Weart reviewed Climate Change and the Nation State: The Case for Nationalism in a Warming World by Anatol Lieven.  In The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert published an excerpt from her afterward to a new compendium entitled The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change.  Advertisements on Facebook denying the reality of the climate crisis or the need for action were viewed by at least 8 million people in the U.S. in the first half of 2020.  An increasing number of psychologists believe the trauma that is a consequence of climate breakdown is also one of the biggest obstacles in the struggle to take action against rising greenhouse gas emissions.  The Yale and George Mason Universities’ programs on climate change communication have released a new report entitled “Climate Change in the Minds of U.S. News Audiences”.  Members of the Rockefeller family are leveraging their fortune and network of wealthy friends to pressure major U.S. banks to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Closing Thought

As some of you know, I am an engineer by nature and by training.  Consequently, the article that most boosted my optimism this week was one about Aaswath Raman and his team at UCLA, who have developed a passive cooling system that can help reduce energy use in a warming world.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.